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USDA eases cap on school lunches

The government is easing guidelines on school lunches, and this could mean significant changes to what students might see on the lunch menu by January 1.

The USDA is currently trying to lessen the cap it put on the amount of grains and protein schools can feed their students. While it would seem more dangerous to kids’ diet in a country already fighting an obesity problem among youth, nutritionists believe this is actually the healthier way to go.

Although this change will start taking place nation-wide by the start of this upcoming year, Bannock County School District nutritionists said they are going to wait-out this adjustment until they find out more concrete details about what this conversion actually means.

“We don’t know because it’s so uncertain,” District 25 nutritionist Dawn Stone said. “We’re just going to leave things as is. It’s too hard to change things back and forth. We don’t want to add things back into our menu and then have to take it back away from our kids again.”

Stone said planning each menu is tedious, scientific almost, and takes months to figure out the proper portion sizes while simultaneously keep kids full and alert.

Although the government is easing-up on the amount of grains and meat kids can eat now, they have not released specific facts about how much they will raise the limit by, or whether or not they will just discard the cap altogether. However, the USDA is now allowing schools to give its students more fruits and vegetables.

Stone said increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables given to students is a good way to introduce healthier foods into their diets, but will not keep the hunger away in the same way grains and protein will. In other words, the hamburger will be more filling than an apple.

“It may take several exposures, but they’ll be likely to try that item so I love that. But it’s not sustaining and it’s not filling up our kids,” Stone said.

Stone compared the hamburger to the granola bar – while the granola bar fits the criteria for the proper amount of grains the USDA allows a student to consume during the lunch period, it leaves the student hungry soon after. However, she said the hamburger pushes the limit of the required amount, yet keeps kids satisfied and full until the end of the day.

“We like what we’re doing here, and we’re more than supportive of the USDA, but we just need some flexibility,” Stone said regarding the struggle to find that balance between healthy meals and keeping kids satisfied.

So while she believes these lunches under the current regulations are not providing enough nutrition, she still likes the direction this lunch line is heading.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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